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CENTRE STAJ

Veteran forward can't wait to see Flames playoff fever sweep the city

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Party like there's no tomorrow.

Or at least like it's 2015.

Matt Stajan, for one, can't wait.

"You see how each city embraces playoffs,'' the 33-year-old centre is saying, his Flames having had their playoff passports officially stamped Friday evening.

"They do it in different ways, to different degrees. Two years ago, the way everybody here got behind us, all the excitement generated … you just want to relive that feeling.

"Again and again.

"When you're out and around the city you realize just how much people are into it, how excited they are. Like we're all in it together.

"We've started to feel that the last three weeks, the same sort of buzz building."

Springtime 2015 was indeed a wonderful stretch to fly the Flames' flag. Five years of 82-and-out anguish were suddenly, in the blink of a Johnny Gaudreau shimmy-shake, washed away, forgotten.

"As a player, this is what you work for, the opportunity to be in the playoffs,'' continued Stajan. "Every year that's the target, every team's target, so it doesn't always happen.

"It's not automatic. It hasn't been a regular occurrence around here.

"So when you get there you've really got to take it all in.

"My first year in the NHL I reached the playoffs with Toronto. Gary Roberts was on the team then. I remember him standing up in the room and saying: 'Guys, we've got to make something happen here. You don't know how many times you're going to be back. Make it count.'

"And he was right. There are no guarantees. It took me, what, 10 years to get back? The top teams always seem to be there, then there's a battle by the rest of the teams to get in.

"So you do everything in your power to make it count."

The 2014-15 edition needed until Game 81, a 3-1 decisioning of the L.A. Kings, to nail down a spot.

The current crop hasn't let it quite so late and remains very much in the running for one of the Top-3 placings in the Pacific Division, maybe even, depending on how the dominoes fall between now and April 8, its penthouse.

"You've accomplished something once you've clinched,'' reminded Stajan. "So enjoy it, yeah. But at the same time these last few games are important. We're not in a spot where we can just take (four) games off.

"You want to position yourself as best you can, maybe get home ice, and there's still lots of room for movement up or down in our conference.

"As importantly, you want to be playing good hockey going in so you've got to keep pushing.

"That's what's great about the schedule. The way it's set up, we've got games against teams we're jockeying with.

"Those types of games should keep you sharp."

Each playoff experience provides fresh, quirky storylines, new (often unlikely) heroes, moments that linger long in memory.

Two springtimes back, there was plenty to draw from; then-coach Bob Hartley's DQ Flaming C ice-cream cakes; those Micheal Ferland For Mayor lawn signs; Stajan's emotional, late third period, tie-breaking Game 6 goal that eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1, advancing the Flames in the post-season queue.

Who will step to the fore this time?

What unforeseen, impossible-to-script drama awaits?

Already, it's been quite a ride.

From the off-season long-term captures of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, to the emergence of the 3M line, to incoming head coach Glen Gulutzan's stubborn belief in structure that paid off, from powerplay and penalty kill upgrades to Dougie Hamilton's upswing when partnered with Giordano.

Then there was Michael Ferland when partnered with Gaudeau and Monahan, from a franchise equalling 10-game win streak that stretched back to the Atlanta days, to Brian Elliott's Mike Vernon-equalling personal 11-decision W stretch, from teenager Matthew Tkachuk's controlled recklessness and beyond-his-year poise, to Chad Johnson's three-shutouts-in-15-days in November that helped hold it together, from the "Moooooose!" chants beginning to clatter around the upper reaches of the 'Dome, to Tkachuk's ever-dangling mouthguard, to Hamilton's fixation with photo bombs.

All that.

And as of Friday guaranteed bonus hockey in the bargain.

"We know what to expect going forward from how it was (in 2015),'' said Stajan. "We've had some tough years here but we got a taste of it two years ago.

"Hopefully we can make it a really fun time, not only for ourselves but for the city.

"A couple good months would be nice."

 

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